by Eulana Weekes
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): The Child Protection Services in St. Kitts and Nevis consists of two units; the Child Care Unit and the Probation Unit. The Child Care Unit deals with abuse, neglect etc., whilst the Probation Unit deals with juveniles who conflict with the law. Thus, the Child Protection Services works closely with law enforcement when a child commits an offence or is a victim of an offence.
Case Manager at the Probation Unit within the Ministry of Social Development – Mrs Tanya Belle-James, explained how the Child Protection Services assist juveniles in trouble.
“The two Units are split. We operate totally different; with the two Units, that is where we holistically take care of children in all aspects. We protect them from the threats out there. We protect them from even the very justice system. It has to be conducive to a child. So, the punishment must be conducive to a child.”
The most prevalent reports to the Probation Unit are fights, said Child Protection Officer Mr Loston Percival. However, Mrs Belle-James noted an increase in Building Breaking and Larceny being committed by juveniles which are also of major concern.
“I would start by saying, fights; that’s the most of the problems that we are facing. Whether it be at schools or within the communities because these things spill over. From school, it will spill over into the community or vice versa; from the community, it will spill into the schools. So the most problems that we are facing right now [are] fights,” said Percival.
Belle James added, “There is also an increase in Building Breaking and Larceny by minors within the past, probably two months or so. We are finding that the increase happens mostly in the rural areas. So, I guess that is something that the rural police department needs to take into consideration when they are doing their school checks and stuff like that; [by] helping children to understand that “what is not mine, I don’t take.”
When children violate the law, their matters are dealt with slightly differently from adults. Mrs Belle James outlined the steps that are taken when a child commits an offence.
“First of all, when a child commits a criminal offence, they can be apprehended by the police. However, the police have to inform the Probation Unit, and then we will take it from there. When they inform us, we go to the police station; we receive a document saying that the child was apprehended. The parent(s) should be present at that time, and the child is being released to the parent, and a release form must be given. Within 24 to 40 hours, the Probation Unit has to do an assessment of the child; this includes background information, family, school, any social activities the child might be involved with. Even if it’s possible to get a psych, we would try to get that information as well. It is compiled, then it is sent to the Child Justice Committee, the DPP and the office of who is taking the child in front of the CJC or the DPP who is taking the child in front of the court. Basically, we do the procedure. We work as court officers for children in conflict with the law.”
If a child is brought before the Child Justice Committee, he or she may be required to attend a diversion programme such as community service, job attachment, curfew or mentoring, Belle-James mentioned.
She also explained that the police have a duty to uphold the law as stated in the Child Justice Act.
“You can’t leave a child in a police station past a certain time. We have allotted time. It is against the Juvenile Justice Act to have a child within the police station just there because you feel that the child should be punished. That is not how it works for juveniles.”
Within the schools, there are Guidance and Counseling Units to assist children who have been victims of crime. However, it was shared by Mr Percival that there are not enough resources generally for the Guidance and Counselling Units. He suggested that the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with other agencies, come together to formulate a plan or programme to decide what is necessary to tackle specific issues.
Additionally, Belle-James suggested implementing more targeted programmes geared towards a specific group of children with issues rather than putting all children together in one setting.
The conversation followed recent fights within schools; one, a viral video showing a female student being ganged by several other students and a report of a stabbing incident which resulted in the hospitalisation of a male student.